What’s the price of waning consumer confidence? For the California leafy greens industry, the price was $100 million – the losses suffered when Americans stopped eating spinach for weeks following an E. coli outbreak in 2006. Other produce, from tomatoes to jalapeño peppers to almonds, suffered similarly devastating losses following outbreaks in the last decade.
Kudos to the leafy greens industry for showing action following the crisis and taking bold steps to restore consumer confidence. In the absence of FDA oversight, the industry has contracted the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to administer rigorous safety checks of handlers representing nearly 99% of the leafy green produce. Participating producers display the CDFA Certified logo on their products to reassure consumers and publicize the additional safety checks. It all amounts to good branding and good business – especially given that the industry has been outbreak-free in the two years since the initiative began.
Critics balk at the conflict of interest resulting from the fact that the safety inspectors are being paid by the very industry they are assigned to oversee. From a branding perspective, this should be a nonissue given that the industry’s best interest, first and foremost, is to ensure strict oversight and prevent another outbreak. Failure to do so could mean a second devastating blow to consumer confidence and would nullify any goodwill built up through the CDFA partnership. Strict oversight is a small price for the industry to pay for brand preservation. Other at-risk produce should take note and take similar action to protect their brand.